'The Bachelor' Names Matt James as Franchise's First Black Leading Man

The Bachelor has named its first Black leading man in its 18-year history. Friday, the ABC show announced that 28-year-old Matt James will star as the Bachelor for Season 25. James will be a new face for Bachelor Nation, having first been cast as a suitor in Clare Crawley's season of The Bachelorette before production was delayed due to the coronavirus.

The North Carolina native is a real estate broker, entrepreneur and community organization founder who majored in economics at Wake Forest University, where he played wide receiver for the school's football team. He then went on to play football professionally before moving to New York City. James is also close to Bachelor Nation stars Hannah Brown and Tyler Cameron and got attention from fans of the series while appearing in TikTok videos with the duo at the start of quarantine.

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"When filming [Crawley's season] couldn't move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor," Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said in a statement, as per ABC.

James' casting comes amid a widespread call for better representation of BIPOC in Bachelor Nation, including a Change.org petition calling for a Black Bachelor that as of Friday had almost 85,000 signatures. Former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, the franchise's only Black lead, spoke out against the lack of diversity in Bachelor Nation, writing in a blog post on Monday, that she would disassociate herself from the show altogether if solid efforts were not made to change the landscape.

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After James' casting, she told Good Morning America there is far more work to be done. "I want producers of color," she said. "I would like for them to cast leads that are interested in dating outside of their race, aren't just getting their experience for the first time on national TV. I need the acknowledgment of that, not putting a Band-Aid over the situation and just saying, 'Here, we're gonna put this here, are you happy now?'"

Burke added in her statement of the franchise moving forward, "We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we're seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in and we are proudly in service to our audience. We will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise. We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first black Bachelor, and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him."